This post originally appeared on VICE UK
"This was never my intention… I'm extremely sorry for everything that happened."
So formed the crux of the on-screen apology from newly-exiled Canadian pick-up "artist" Julien Blanc yesterday. He shifted in his chair in his suit, his shirt unbuttoned, profusely swallowing, trying to keep his darting eyes on the anchor, Chris Cuomo.
"Unfortunately a lot of it got taken out of context."
"I don't hear you owning it," said Cuomo. Pretty much no one else thought Blanc was owning it, either—not least those who have campaigned against him, and clearly not the UK Home Office who today have denied Blanc the visa he needs to enter the country. To an extent, Blanc might have yielded. He might have admitted that yes, grabbing the necks of strange women and holding up T-shirts emblazoned with the truly, staggeringly hilarious phrase: "Diss Fatties, Bang Hotties" was "a horrible attempt at humor." But anyone with even the lowest-wattage bullshit detector will not have been convinced by his show of remorse.
The opportunity for public apology is a great way of owning your behavior and actions, of proving that you're at least attempting to address any conflict and hurt you may have caused. Good examples are David Letterman and Hugh Grant . A bad example is Alec Baldwin. But it's an arena that has its pitfalls. Get the apology wrong, deviate from the original objective—which is, usually, to start with hands open, saying you're sorry for doing wrong, not making excuses, suggesting that other people are at fault, too—and you can potentially cause even more offense.
CNN is one of the biggest news networks in the world. It is a pretty huge platform upon which to own your bad behavior. But Blanc resembled the confident, capable man he purports to be able to turn any loveless idiot into about as much as I resemble Harry Redknapp. He looked like a desperate student caught by the principal in the bathroom with a handful of cherry bombs and a roll of plastic wrap. Only, we're miles away from talking benign schoolkid nonsense here.
Blanc's apology immediately calls another recently pariah-ed, wanton woman-objectifying figure to mind: Dapper Laughs, a.k.a. Daniel O'Reilly, who recently appeared on Newsnight to say sorry for his "boundary-pushing" brand of street harassment comedy.
If you compare both public apologies, what can you see more or less immediately is that O'Reilly's body language is more direct. He's leaning forward in his respectful black roll-neck, pointing his torso (and gaze) towards interviewer Emily Maitlis. He's engaged and purposeful. Which is the least you'd hope a man who told a female audience member she was " gagging for a rape" might be while trying to build even the smallest bridge towards public redemption. In comparison to Blanc, who can't seem to keep his eyes or body still, he just looks a bit more… present. Less like a jibber jabber that's about to shit itself.
That O'Reilly was given a public platform like Newsnight brought a storm for the show's editor, Ian Katz. "Dapper Laughs joins the Cookie Monster in the list of recent illustrious Newsnight guests (sound of a barrel being scraped)," said some journalists, but he did his best to clear his name. Or did he?
"I didn't think so many people would end up seeing it," he said, referencing his leap to ITV2 from the relative obscure safety of a catalogue of Vine videos that generally center around the phrases "moist" (what a woman gets when she sees him), "cock" (why she gets moist), and "she knows" (…he's got a big cock. When she sees him. She knows so she gets moist.)
"I kind of got a bit carried away with it, to be honest with you," he says, before going on to talk about his "demographic" and the audience that "received" him, and inferring, basically, that it was only human nature to ride the wave of notoriety as it swelled beneath him. In the BBC studio, O'Reilly maintains that the separation between him, the normal bloke, and his character's exaggerated, cock-and-fanny-orientated lolz should have been evident. "I was taking the mick," he asserts, pleadingly, "out of what men think."
So still, like Blanc, there is no, "I'm so sorry for being a shit."
O'Reilly's main strategy on Newsnight was to argue the gulf between him and his character, as if we somehow should have separated them from the off. But isn't that the aim with good immersive comedy? That you want people to believe the character is real? It's why Chris Morris was so polarizing with Jam—you utterly believed his warped, frighteningly reprehensible characters were real, such was the deftness with which he and his cast played them (see: "Disinterested Parents of Missing Child").
I'm not sure whether saying: "I was pushing the boundaries with the character because it was popular," is a wise choice of words in a public apology, because it implies that he was aware of how rank the stuff in the Vine videos were, and made them ranker still as the shares and likes racheted up. He can hold open his palms (see above) towards Maitlis and shake his head all he likes—the defense is flimsy. He probably knows it is, too.
O'Reilly said over and over again in his apology, when pushed, that he didn't think Dapper Laughs incited sexual violence, because he thought people were laughing at how ridiculous it was. Fine. But again, he'd already said that he knew the stuff he had the "character" saying was awful and that he made it more awful the more popular he got. So, in terms of creating a solid, public admission of guilt, it doesn't hold up. He tied himself in knots.
So, too, did Blanc. After telling Cuomo about how many people—sorry, "clients"—he's brought together, how people have legitimately used his services to meet their "spouses," he collapses when Cuomo points out that some of his suggested techniques include men grabbing women's heads and shoving them into their crotches. He laughs and closes his eyes, saying, "This is where some of the confusion is coming from." It says, ah, ye of little knowledge. You couldn't possibly know how it works.
But Blanc's biggest problem in his apology is the line: "I'm not going to be happy about feeling like I'm the most hated man in the world," in response to Cuomo saying the only possible way that he can emerge from this whole shitstorm with any dignity is to "own it." But all Blanc appears to be grappling with is pride. He's being right royally picked on, OK?
Furthermore, the repetition of the phrase "horrible attempt at humor" becomes void if it's book-ended with repeated reference to things being "taken out of context," because, as Cuomo rightly points out, when an image of a man with his hand around a woman's neck surfaces and is shared far and wide on the internet, there is no room for context. No one gives a shit about context. Particularly if the perpetrator admits, as he did on CNN, that he was "trying to provoke a shock."
At the end of the interview, on his reappropriation of a domestic abuse chart into a male empowerment checklist, he said he "stupidly thought" it would be "funny to mock it" and that he's going to be "reevaluating everything he's putting out" in the future. However, this idea of "future" is the real issue at play.
Because while O'Reilly loses his cool slightly like Blanc did when his words and actions, too, are pointed out to him ( Maitlis repeats the "get some duct tape and rape the bitch" line back to him, slowly and purposefully), telling his (female) interviewer to "listen" while he tries to keep making his point of distance, he ends his opportunity for public apology by saying that Dapper Laughs is gone. He doesn't want to carry on the Dapper Laughs tours. He says he's "ruined everything" for himself and you sort of believe him, because, well, of course he fucking has. He says his family have spoken to him about it, and, when he does, his eyes redden. His voice wobbles.
Blanc, however, leaves it open-ended. His interview—and opportunity to take ownership—ends with him suggesting that, despite being willing to address some of his material, he wants to carry on doing his seminars. He "hopes" that people will still come. He wants all this to go away so he can carry on being the benevolent, romantic, all-seeing auteur he sees himself as in his head.
The benefit of both these men's public airings is that they were controlled by another person, someone acting as the public voice of reason, picking out things they'd probably purposefully ignore were they to have a few minutes to read a pre-prepared speech (like the one convicted rapist Ched Evans gave, in which he apologized to everyone but the girl he raped) on camera.
Neither of these men's apologies trump the other. They are both different shades of diarrhea brown. Both claim they had no idea how much of a problem they were causing, which they should just not have said. It reeks. O'Reilly, though, is saying he'll kill Dapper Laughs completely. Which is great for everyone.
Maybe, as Julie Bindel so rightly pointed out in the Guardian yesterday, we'll be able to start to take our attention away from him and focus on the root causes of inequality. It is to O'Reilly's credit that he acknowledged that it had to end. Because too much focus on one individual, however misogynistic and foul their act is, is ignoring the dark expanse of iceberg beneath the water's surface. It casts shade on the hard task of making government accountable for groups like Justice for Women, that Bindel founded, which managed to change the law that prevents men claiming that "nagging" was an alright reason to kill their female partners. It just doesn't help.
The only favor O'Reilly could do himself after his Newsnight appearance is to disappear. His merit can only be judged now by his ability to do that and, if he meant what he said in his public apology, he might just follow through. He didn't really own his actions—too many excuses, too much talking about capitalizing on his newfound fame with fresh material—but he acknowledged he had to stop. And that's something.
Blanc, however, left an ominous fart surrounding what shit he might do in a similar vein in the future. And while he won't be doing it in the UK any time soon, that's no way to acknowledge doing wrong.
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